What is Neuroblastoma?

NewsGuard 100/100 Score

Neuroblastoma is a rare childhood cancer that develops from immature nerve cells called neuroblasts. “Neuro” means nerve, while “blast” refers to immature cells and “oma” means a tumor or group of cells. Neuroblastoma usually develops in infants under the age of five years and very rarely in older children, teenagers, and adults.

Neuroblastoma often arises in the abdomen, typically in and around the adrenal glands or the nerve tissue at the back of the abdomen. However, this cancer can also develop in other regions of the abdomen or in nerve tissue found in the neck, chest, spine, or pelvis.

In some cases, neuroblastoma can spread to areas other than the site of origin, most commonly the bone marrow, bones, liver, lymph nodes, and skin. This metastasis occurs in approximately 50% of children with the condition.


Image Credit: Vshivkova


In general, cancer arises due to a genetic mutation that enables healthy cells to continue growing when they would usually have responded to signals to stop growing. These cells then proliferate out of control and grow until they eventually form a mass or tumor.

As a fetus develops in the womb, neuroblasts eventually mature into fully formed nerve cells, nerve fibers, and the cells that form the adrenal glands. The majority of neuroblasts mature by birth, although a small proportion of immature neuroblasts may be present in newborns. Usually, these immature nerve cells develop into mature cells; however, in the case of neuroblastoma, they go on to form a tumor.

In cases where there is a family history of neuroblastoma, children are at an increased risk of developing the disease. However, familial neuroblastoma is only thought to account for a very small proportion of cases and, usually, the cause of the condition is not clear.

Chromosomal and molecular markers

Over the past several decades, researchers have identified several molecular and chromosomal abnormalities in patients with neuroblastoma. These abnormalities serve as biological markers of the condition and have been evaluated to establish their value in determining patient prognosis. Some of these markers are now used as part of risk assignment strategies.

The most significant of these markers is the oncogene MYCN, which has an official name of “v-myc avian myelocytomatosis viral oncogene neuroblastoma derived homolog.” This oncogene is overexpressed in around 25% of neuroblastoma cases and is believed to be due to amplification of the distal arm of chromosome 2.

The number of MYCN gene copies varies widely between neuroblastomas but is usually found to be between 50 and 100. Amplification of this gene is associated with a more aggressive form of this disease. Even in the presence of favorable factors such as low-stage disease, amplification of MYCN is associated with rapid cancer progression and a poor prognosis.


Important prognostic factors used for risk assessment and treatment decisions for patients with neuroblastoma are age, cancer stage, and the features of tumor cells.

Prognosis and treatment outcomes vary widely among these patients. Low-risk or intermediate-risk disease is often associated with an excellent prognosis and outcome, while the high-risk disease is associated with a very poor outcome, even when patients undergo intensive therapy.

Treatment Cures Boy’s Neuroblastoma, Leading To Cancer Breakthrough | Sunday TODAY

Unfortunately, among patients aged more than 18 months, around 75% present with metastatic cancer, typically in the bone marrow, bone, liver, and lymph nodes. Less than 50% of these patients are successfully treated, even when they are administered intensive therapy followed by autologous stem cell or bone marrow rescue.


Further Reading

Article Revisions

  • Feb 21 2024 - Main image replaced with larger image for retina devices.
  • Feb 21 2024 - Fixed issue with broken source link and formatting of other source links.

Last Updated: Feb 20, 2024

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Robertson, Sally. (2024, February 20). What is Neuroblastoma?. News-Medical. Retrieved on April 16, 2024 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Neuroblastoma.aspx.

  • MLA

    Robertson, Sally. "What is Neuroblastoma?". News-Medical. 16 April 2024. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Neuroblastoma.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Robertson, Sally. "What is Neuroblastoma?". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Neuroblastoma.aspx. (accessed April 16, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Robertson, Sally. 2024. What is Neuroblastoma?. News-Medical, viewed 16 April 2024, https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Neuroblastoma.aspx.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.